QUEBEC CITY – It's come down to this. Survival of the fittest. And smartest. And luckiest. And the ones with the best goalie. Sweden was all that when it downed the Czech Republic 3-2 in overtime after Mattias Weinhandl had pushed the puck in the net, lying on his back.
"I was on my back and just tried to get the puck to the net," said Mattias Weinhandl.
"Luckily, it hit some sticks and skates and gloves and found its way in. That's what you need sometimes: luck," he said.
The disappointed Czechs agreed.
"I think it was a really tight game. You couldn't say we were better or Sweden was better. It was a matter of one goal, and they got the lucky bounce in overtime," said Radim Vrbata.
The nature of the game was obvious from the first shift, as Swedes had five men in the neutral zone, skating backwards, the Czechs trying to find a way to get the puck into the Swedish zone. The teams were sizing each other up early on in the game. The importance of the game was obvious as both teams seemed nervous, waiting for the other guys to make a mistake.
"I don't think it was the most entertaining game in the world," said Patric Hornqvist after the game.
At 2:16, Ladislav Kohn made one when he crosschecked Johan Andersson in the face, and was sent to the box for 2+10 minutes. Unfortunately for Sweden, their power play dried up when Mattias Weinhandl got a penalty for holding, giving the Czechs their first power play of the night.
Swedish penalty killing has been excellent in the tournament, and tonight was no exception. The Swedes killed all Czech power plays in the game.
Swedes took shots whenever they had a chance, in the hopes of Milan Hnilicka making a mistake. Instead, the veteran goalie turned away all nine shots i the first period, and even showed off his glove-hand reflexes when he denied Hornqvist from a point blank range.
In the second period, both teams picked up the tempo, and especially the Czechs seemed determined to break the Swedish line of defence once and for all, forechecking harder than in the first period.
At 26:29, the Swedes got a power play when Zbynek Michael was sent off for tripping. Nicklas Backstrom and Robert Nilsson played the puck to Anton Stralman on the point. Hnilicka gave a rebound, and Hornqvist was right on the edge of the blue paint to tip it in for 1-0.
"We had a really good power play there, and we had it in the zone for over a minute when I got a clean rebound and shot it in. It was not the most difficult goal I've ever scored, but it felt good," said Hornqvist.
Three minutes later, Ales Kolinek sent a wrist shot from the top of the left circle, Henrik Lundqvist made a save that sent the puck back to between the circles to Tomas Rolinek whose shot went in under Lundqvist’s pads.
It was difficult to find anything that would tip the scale for either team. After two periods, everything was tied: shots on goal, save percentages, goals, even minor penalties.
Early in the third period, the Czechs took it up a notch, putting Swedes on their heels, and peppering Lundqvist with shots at every chance they got.
And then. At 7:41 remaining, the Czechs got a penalty shot after Radim Vrbata was tripped on a breakaway. Just as Vrbat was about to take the shot, the doors were opened and the ice cleaners were sent out.
Nothing could faze Vrbata who beat Lundqvist on the stick side with a backhander.
But the Swedes didn't give up. With 3:38 remaining, Marcus Nilson fired a wrist shot and beat Milan Hnilicka on the glove side. Hnilicka was sitting on the ice, trying to reach the puck having fallen to the ice just a second earlier when a Swedish player bumped into him.
"I skated to the net straight from the faceoff. I felt something on my back but I thought it was (Hnilicka) pushing me away from the crease, and I did step out a bit," said Rikard Wallin, the player who backed into the Czech goalie.
The Czechs demanded a video review but the game went into a ten-minute overtime.
A minute into it, Martin Erat got a penalty that gave Sweden a 4-on-3 power play. The Czechs killed the penalty, but right after it, Mattias Weinhandl forced the puck behind Hnilicka, giving Sweden the win.
"We killed the power play, but they kept it in the zone and our guys couldn't change. We were tired, and they got a flukey goal. It's tough," said Radim Vrbata.
Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson was happy after the game.
"It was a tight game, not that much fun for the fans to watch. But I'm very happy with the result. With the personnel we have, we have to play a tight game. We did a good job, we have a great goalie and he was there for us tonight," he said.
"The comeback is a sign of a strong team," said Nicklas Backstrom.
"I think we all felt that we would do that. There's a great atmosphere in the team, and that's the biggest thing if you want to win some games."
In the semifinal, Sweden will face Canada.